The first five minutes of Underworld: Blood Wars—and really, couldn’t all of these movies be subtitled Blood Wars?—are a drive-by summary of what happened in the previous four installments of this inexplicably sequeled franchise about the endless conflict between vampire assassin Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and an enemy clan of “Lycans” (i.e. werewolves), and how her inconvenient romance with her hunky werewolf lover (Scott Speedman, wisely not in this film) drives a stake into everything. This time around she’s got working-mother drama added into the mix, having sent their daughter into seclusion in order to prevent her uniquely charmed hybrid blood from falling into the hands of those who seek its power, like predatory VILF Semira (Lara Pulver), Semira’s sullen boy toy Varga (Bradley James), or the mysterious werewolf leader Marius (Tobias Menzies). Meanwhile, a glassy-eyed vampire coterie skulks around their castle fortress, double-crossing each other while dressed in expensive black couture. There’s a very strict dress code in this world—the werewolves make sure to follow it too, with their scuffed Indiana Jones jackets and khaki dusters, and it’s all reminiscent of the witticism that “steampunk is what happened when goths discovered brown.”
The real supernatural feat of every Underworld movie is somehow making vampires fighting werewolves very, very boring. Vampires are supposed to live (un)lives of poignant ennui, not, as George Will once described the sport of American football, “violence punctuated by committee meetings.” And there’s plenty of violence here: the compulsive, joyless, orgiastic kind that too often stands in for real thrills in Hollywood product, and whose excess here veers into self-parody on too many occasions. Even the vampires are strangely unmoved by all this carnage. Aren’t they supposed to be consumed by an unholy hunger for blood? All these gushing arteries, and no one’s ever tempted to nosh? Maybe having to wear that corset every moment of her undead life gives Selene lots of discipline when it comes to counting calories.
The vampires say things in the vein of “Perhaps the blood of this hybrid girl can finally put an end to our accursed war,” but the real vampire curse is on Beckinsale, a capable actress whose resume includes Laurel Canyon and The Aviator, and who had better be getting very, very rich from these wastes of her time and talents. In fact, there are so many talented people roped into this dog—from cinematographer and visual effects pro-turned-director Anna Foerster, to a whole cast full of underrated international actors like Menzies, Charles Dance (Game of Thrones), and Peter Andersson (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)—that you just start to feel sorry for everyone involved. Although this film is being presented in 3D, it gains nothing from the process and actually loses quite a lot, since the gray tint of the glasses washes out what little chroma and contrast are left in the gloomy cinematography. But somebody probably asked the cinematographer to do it that way, and he did, and there you go. The movie is technically proficient, with well-appointed sets and precise special effects and lots of stunt people working up a sweat. All of these people, doing their jobs right, and this is how it turns out. Underworld: Blood Wars’ tossed salad of fetish gear, faux-aristocratic posturing, gore, gunplay, and blah-ba-di-blah-ba-di-blah will either amuse you or not. Probably not. Viewers may find themselves muttering, in Bela Lugosi’s inimitable iambic pentameter, “I VANT to VATCH an-AH-ther FEELM.”